'Serenity' Relies On A Twist So Absurd It's Hard To Believe
The sunny noir is not what it seems, and that's a shame.
"I want you to take him out on your boat, and drop him in the ocean for the sharks." Serenity begins like a classic murder-for-hire mystery as sultry characters converge on a sleepy Caribbean-type island called Plymouth. The movie, however, takes one of the sharpest turns you'll ever see and ambitiously goes for a profound emotional connection that defies reality. It doesn't work. Serenity doesn't have the smarts for all its worldly ambition.
Serenity is a disappointment mostly because writer/director Steven Knight usually makes movies worth watching. He doesn't resort to parlor tricks for assistance and is typically a solid storyteller. Where this one came from is beyond me, but half the cast got a screenwriting credit alongside Knight so take that for what it's worth. If Serenity seems thrown together it's probably because it was. If actors are making up enough dialogue on the spot to get credit, that means trouble.
The movie begins with Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey), a fisherman who has visions he can't explain. Baker's obsessed with an elusive tuna, his personal Moby Dick and he's whacked out enough to attack clients on his boat who want to catch the fish too. Baker's got problems, and one of them, his ex-wife Karen (Anne Hathaway), soon materializes. That's when she asks him to turn her abusive new husband (Jason Clarke) into chum.
Now, Baker's got a new lady (Diane Lane), but he's still got a thing for Karen. He eventually does the right thing and turns her down, but she's the mother of his son, Patrick (Rafael Sayegh). Plus, this new guy is a real animal, and the more Baker thinks about it, the more he wants to kill him.
**Spoilers to follow**
As Knight's story unfolds it's hard not to notice how plastic everything seems. The characters are off and you feel like you're watching a bad version of a good movie, which you pretty much are. The characters are thinly sketched, the dialogue is flat, and the actors all seem... indifferent. It's very strange, but then Knight throws a wrench in the gears that explains the wooden first act, but also takes the movie in an absurd direction that's hard not to giggle at.
The film reveals, through a White Rabbit character, that Baker Dill is actually dead, and the man we're seeing onscreen is a video game character created by his son. Patrick has reprogrammed his fishing game so his dead father is the hero whose new objective is to kill a man. Make sense? Patrick is tired of being abused by his stepfather, although he seems interested in watching his mother get sexually assaulted. Patrick is a disturbed kid and none of that is ever explained, it's just thrown into the story. Instead, the rest of the film focuses on Baker.
Knight's big twist is meant to serve as a spiritual resolution between father and son, but it misses so badly it's hard to believe this movie ever got made. (It does explain why its release date was pushed from September to the doldrums of February.) For McConaughey, Serenity is like the ugly stepchild of Fool's Gold and Interstellar. It's set in the water and has an ending that makes less sense the more you think about it.